Religions seen slow to go green; Pope Francis has chance to inspire

June 17, 2013

(Solar panels cover the roof of the Paul VI hall near the cupola of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican November 26, 2008. REUTERS/Tony Gentile )

Few religious communities have gone as far in fighting climate change as a church in Queensland, Australia, which has 24 solar panels bolted to the roof in the shape of a Christian cross.

“It’s very effective. It’s inspired some members of our congregation to install panels on their homes,” Reverend David Lowry said of the “solar cross” mounted in 2009 on the Caloundra Uniting Church, which groups three Protestant denominations.

Many religions have been wary of moving to install renewable energy sources on their places of worship, from cathedrals to mosques – or of taking a strong stand on climate change in general – despite teachings that people should be custodians of nature.

But slowly, that may be changing, thanks to new religious leaders including Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis’s stress on environmental protection since he was elected in March and his choice of the name of a 13th century nature lover – Saint Francis of Assisi – may make a difference for all religions trying to work out how to safeguard the planet from threats including climate change.

Under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican took green steps such as installing solar panels on the roof of the Papal Audience Hall in 2008. It says it wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but has no formal target.

“Religious environmentalism is slowly increasing,” said John Grim, a coordinator of the forum on religion and ecology at Yale University in the United States. “It’s very uneven. Religions tend to be very conservative in their practice and doctrine.”
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